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(The Seduction of Simplistic Raw Vegan Dogma--continued, Part B)

The claims regarding raw diets that sound too good to be true

As mentioned above, those who believe the claims that raw diets will cure any/all diseases, solve all the world's problems, and so on, certainly expect a great deal from what is on their lunch plates--i.e., embody unrealistic expectations. Such wild and fanciful claims are similar to those made by the unscrupulous peddlers of patent medicines in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s, from which the term "snake oil" comes. (Similarly, one can find some peddlers of multi-level-marketed supplements making wild verbal claims nowadays about their products.) Because they are making similar claims, but about diets, it is not unreasonable to characterize the dietary extremists who promote "cure-all, perfect, and/or ideal" diets as promoters of dietary snake oil.

It should be noted that not all promoters of dietary snake oil--maybe not even most--are motivated purely by greed. Some of the current dietary snake oil peddlers are people who: (1) went on a diet, and then (2) experienced great improvement in health and/or healing on the diet. Said individuals then: (3) mistakenly believe that their short-run healing diet is also an ideal long-term maintenance diet (for everyone!), with the result that (4) they become "missionaries" for their diet.

In other words, some peddlers of dietary snake oil have, in fact, duped themselves (via ignorance and failing to think clearly) into the false belief that their diet is the "one true religion and science of perfect health." Clearly, such dietary snake oil peddlers are not motivated only by the desire to exploit others (and perhaps may not even be aware that that characterizes part of what they are doing)--but they are still snake oil peddlers. So... be wary of wild claims: they may be coming from very sincere people, which in itself does not prove anything although it certainly increases the seductiveness of the claims made. Sincerity is fine and needed in this world. It does not, however, guarantee anything.

An obvious answer to the question of why people are seduced by dietary snake oil is that the same reasons apply as for traditional snake oil. Some relevant reasons are:

Side notes:

  1. The criticism above of a "quick/easy fix" to health problems should be considered in context: the advantages of finding long-term solution(s) for health problems. There are times when a "quick fix" is desirable and/or necessary. Examples include: relief from severe pain, when necessary to save a life (e.g., heart attack), when necessary to prevent long-term damage to vital bodily systems (e.g., demyelinative disorders of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis), and so on. The criticisms above should not deter one from seeking a "quick fix" when appropriate. The object of the criticism above is to alert readers to the limits and constraints inherent in "quick/easy fixes."

  2. Raw vegan diets have an impressive anecdotal record of success as short-term healing diets. (In the long run, the record as a maintenance diet is rather dismal.) The point is that raw diets may be healing for some in the short run, but they are not for everyone, and they are not cure-alls. The claim that raw diets are cure-alls (or even nearly so, since overidealism may be more believable if at least a few exceptions to an all-powerful cure-all are admitted) is clearly in the realm of dietary snake oil.

Claims that the diet is perfect, ideal, and/or most natural

The false sense of security imparted by simplistic dietary dogma follows from being "sold" a false naturalism/model of nature that supposedly supports the diet. Further, the "sale" of such dogma may depend, as discussed above, on the idealism and gullibility of the potential follower of the dietary extremists. The security comes from believing that the diet is one or more of the following, according to the dogma: best, ideal, most natural, perfect, cure-all, solution to all problems, and so on. Needless to say, such claims are false, hence the sense of security is false, but this does not matter to the (uninformed) follower, and the extremists are generally pleased to have uninformed followers (though they of course may not consider them to be so) who buy their books, tapes, newsletters, and so on.

Certain other aspects of raw dietary dogma promote a false sense of security as follows:

To summarize this section: a sense of security, of knowing that your diet is "right" or "best" (even if the belief is false), is a very attractive and seductive part of simplistic dietary dogma.

SOCIAL ASPECTS: Uniqueness and attention

Individual reaction to the social impact of a raw vegan diet can vary by individual preference. That is, the raw vegan diet may present social opportunities, or be socially isolating. Thus the social aspect may be an incentive (part of the seduction) or a disincentive, to raw diets.

First, raw vegan diets are relatively rare. They make a person stand out in modern society, and hence provide a certain uniqueness to the person following the diet. Further, as many social events revolve around food, the raw vegan may be the focus of considerable attention at social events (because of the uniqueness of the diet). This provides those with the "missionary" mindset many opportunities to talk about what are usually their favorite subjects of discussion: their raw vegan diets, and themselves. (In my experience, these two are often correlated: raw/restricted diet and big egos).

Of course, one may be challenged about one's diet, but the missionary mentality views such events as opportunities to preach the virtues of the "one true religion and science of perfect health, the raw-food diet." (On the other hand, challenge an extremist and you will probably be the target of attacks and hostility.) Thus, that raw vegan dogma provides an opportunity for dietary "missionary work" is attractive to some rawists, and part of its seductive nature.

Side note: the above is intended as criticism of those who take simplistic dietary dogma and elevate it to the level of religion. It is not intended as criticism of legitimate, established religions that include a dietary component, e.g., the Hallelujah Diet, perhaps others, etc.

On the other hand, many rawists eventually tire of the hassle of explaining their diet, and/or lack the social skills to handle inquiries about their diet, due to immaturity in some cases, and lunch-identification--the process of identifying with one's lunch--in other cases. (See Functional and Dysfunctional Lunch-Attitudes on this site for details.) When that happens, the usual result is that the rawist avoids social events that include food--i.e., most social events. In that situation, the diet can be very socially isolating, and can even promote a negative mentality: "me (raw)" vs. "them (cooked world)," which can promote further isolation. Even worse, when your diet controls your social agenda and social life, then the raw vegan diet is (figuratively) eating you, when it should be the other way around!

In this situation, rawism and raw dogma can be social impediments, and this can be a disincentive to raw (i.e., anti-seduction). One of the things that I personally found very welcome when I discontinued 100% raw and resumed eating some cooked food was how relaxed--and pleasant--social events became, and how much of life I was missing by avoiding social events because the food (vegetarian, by the way) was "cooked." [Personal note to socially isolated, emaciated, 100% raw vegan fanatics: gaining some weight, and allowing yourself the freedom to eat some cooked food, might actually improve your social--and sex--life! :-) ] Basically, you should set the social agenda, and not surrender that part of your life to the dictates of narrow, simplistic dietary dogma.

To summarize this topic: the uniqueness of raw vegan dogma can be an incentive to those who wish to promote the diet (and usually, themselves, at the same time), but can be a disincentive and socially isolating for others.

The perils of assigning moral values to diet

It is appropriate to begin this section with a quote from the article, "The New Food Anxiety," by Paul Roberts, from the April 1998 issue of Psychology Today (vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 30-38, 74). From p. 38:

...the psychological appeal of such diets has almost nothing to do with their nutritional benefits; eating the right foods is for many of us very satisfying.... In truth humans have been assigning moral values to foods and food practices forever.... Numerous studies have found that eating bad foods...can cause far more guilt than any measurable ill-effects might warrant, and not just for those with eating disorders.

The morality of foods also plays a huge role in how we judge others. In a study by Arizona State University psychologists Richard Stein, Ph.D. and Carol Nemeroff, Ph.D., fictitious students who were said to eat a good diet...were rated by test subjects as more moral, likeable, attractive, and in-shape than identical students who ate a bad diet....

It comes as no surprise to learn that raw-fooders often assign moral values to their "ideal, perfect, most natural" diets. Indeed, it can be hard to resist the temptation to consider yourself morally superior when your lunch is fruit or sprout salad, and the lunch of "other people" is hamburgers and chocolate-chip cookies. After all, the fruit/sprouts are: fresh, live, enzyme-rich, whole, unprocessed, organic, and other superlatives. Meanwhile the hamburger and cookies are: cooked, dead, fractionated, processed, non-organic; furthermore hamburgers and chocolate-chip cookies might violate the "holy sacrament of food combining." :-) The raw-fooder takes further satisfaction from knowing that he or she used to eat such "degenerate" cooked foods, but has since broken the chains of "cooked-food addiction" (according to rawist dogma), and become a better(!?), more disciplined, and hence, MORALLY SUPERIOR person.

In reality, what actually happens is that the rawist, believing false raw dogma, sets out to accomplish a bit of discipline--through disciplined eating, namely a restricted diet of raw foods. Then, on accomplishing this discipline, the rawist may reap the common result: an inflated, inflamed ego, accompanied by massive self-righteousness. (The same thing often happens to those who follow conventional, cooked-food vegan diets.) What is ironic about this situation is that the self-righteousness of raw dogma is far more addictive than cooked foods may or may not be. How many people are self-righteous because they eat cooked foods, rather than raw? (Maybe a few extremist macrobiotics, but they are a tiny minority.)

And yet, the evidence available suggests that some (many) of the self-proclaimed "100%-raw" role models do not strictly follow the diet they promote, and instead binge-eat (often in secret, and on cooked food!), while selling themselves to the world as supposedly successful, 100%-raw role models (or "experts"). The relevant term here is "raw hypocrisy." Further, raw dogma is often far more restrictive than cooked food dogma ever was; an apt metaphor for raw dogma is that of a "golden cage," because the rawist happily accepts severe restrictions on his/her diet and life. (See the book The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa, by Hilde Bruch, 1978, Harvard University Press, for the motivation for the metaphor).

Certain extremists actually promote the idea that eating 100% raw makes you (genetically) "superior" to others. Such sentiments are nothing but bigotry, partially hidden behind a "smoke screen" of crank science and dietary dogma. The analogy to racism is obvious here. Shame on the extremists who promote this as a reason to become rawists!

To summarize: because of the discipline required to comply with narrow, restrictive rawist dogma, self-righteousness and inflated egos are risks and/or occupational hazards on the raw path. Once a person is tainted by self-righteousness, raw dietary dogma has a firm grip on them--it is very seductive indeed.

Something larger than yourself to believe in

Because raw diets are promoted via a false naturalism that claims they are "most natural," and the claim is very attractive to idealists, it is very common for those who follow raw diets to develop what could be referred to as lunch-identification. This happens when one identifies strongly with their diet; when the diet and its dogma become an important part of the individual psyche. (See the article, Functional and Dysfunctional Lunch-Attitudes on this site for a fuller discussion.) One way to characterize this is that "I'm a raw-fooder" can be more important than "I'm a human being," to a person afflicted with lunch-identification.

Further, while those attracted to raw diets self-identify with the diet and its simplistic dogma, they are usually also attracted to the "raw movement." One can define the raw movement as the collection of individuals and groups promoting raw-food (vegan) diets. Strictly speaking, it is really a collection of small groups that often disagree with one another on the details of the diets. Further, these groups often compete with, or even conflict with, one another (e.g., there is an extremist raw/fruitarian wing that is extremely hateful and dishonest, in my opinion and experience). However, the idea that there is, in effect, a unified raw movement is appealing to idealists, as it gives them something larger than themselves to believe in. It gives them the hope for a "brave raw world" (a la Aldous Huxley's Brave New World), which some of the extremists claim (often in a hateful manner) will be a "paradise" with no sickness or social problems of any kind.

Side note: the contrast between the hateful fanaticism of the lunatic fringe of the raw/fruitarian movement, and the peaceful raw paradise that they claim will result if the world follows the diet they advocate or claim to follow is quite amazing. If the mind/body connection works as the extremists imply it will, and the diet changes your mindset, then the evidence--the hateful, hostile behavior of the extremists--suggests that if you follow their diet, then you too, will become a hostile, mentally unbalanced fanatic! :-)

The idea that a raw movement exists also provides some comfort to lonely, socially isolated rawists, who strive to be raw in the "cooked" world. As discussed earlier, such attitudes reflect more accurately on the social maladjustment that raw dogma indirectly promotes, by placing very high value on being raw, and low value on other things. The idea that somewhere there are "people like me" is comforting to the isolated rawist. Side note: while it is difficult to be 100% raw and have a social life in this world, it is pretty easy to have a social life if you are 75-95% raw. Is 100% raw really worth it? As a former long-time 100% raw person, my personal answer is a clear and emphatic: NO--there are many things in life that are more important than what is on your lunch plate!

To summarize: to a limited extent, the idea that there is a "glorious" :-) raw-food movement that one can be a part of is a part of the seduction of raw dietary dogma, since:

  1. It appeals strongly to idealists, and,

  2. To a certain extent, it counters the social isolation that rawists often experience in the "cooked" world.

RAW DOGMA AND CULTS: The cult of 100% raw

If one happens to follow the wrong dietary extremists, one may find the raw experience to be cult-like. For many people this is a disincentive, hence anti-seduction. For others, the cultish aspects are part of the seduction, as cults usually promise great things if you follow their teachings, and provide a well-defined group to identify with. Below are a few of the cult-like aspects of raw dogma.

Just as some rawists identify with the (whole) raw movement, and find some comfort in that, other rawists may identify with the group surrounding their diet guru(s). In some cases, these groups are fanatical and very cult-like, and the cultish nature/aspects are attractive, or seductive, to some.

Finally, some readers may note that some of the "cult" aspects above can be used to describe religions as well. That is true, but there is a big difference between a legitimate religion that has love at its center (at least in theory), and the negative teachings of some raw-food extremists. The dietary extremists promote pathological fear of cooked food, protein, mucus, and/or the idea that eating raw makes you "superior." Religions promote placing love at the center of your life (and some legitimate religions have dietary teachings); while raw dietary extremists want you (without themselves realizing this is what they promote) to place obsessive fear, food obsessions, and/or crank science at the center of your life.

Other reasons for the seductiveness of raw diets

Part of the attraction (or seduction) of raw diets comes not from the dogma itself, but from the claims of god-like health made by the dietary extremists. As mentioned previously, raw vegan diets have an excellent anecdotal record as short-run healing/health-improvement diets, while the long-run record is not very good (there are very few long-time raw vegans).

However, there are many reasons to seriously question the honesty and/or reliability of some of the claims of long-term success. For a discussion on this, refer to the article Assessing Claims and Credibility in the Realm of Raw and Alternative Diets on this site.


As long as one is gullible and reason is impaired by excessive idealism (or high blood sugar from a fruit diet :-) ), there are plenty of dietary "experts" and "gurus" who may seem very attractive, some of whom are dubious peddlers of dietary snake oil, and who are anxious to sell their diets, books, tapes, and newsletters to you. The object of this site is to encourage you to start thinking--clearly, carefully, and critically--about the claims of the so-called dietary experts/gurus. If you do that, then you will have reduced your gullibility and idealism, and will see that some of the (raw) dietary gurus are extremists, promoting simplistic dietary dogma and/or crank science. Remember: if the claims about a diet sound too good to be true, then chances are good that they probably are.

I hope this article has given you some "food for thought." I wish you good health, and good thinking!

--Tom Billings

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